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Tempering Chocolate

Robbin Zeff Warner | April 2012 | Version 4.0


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  • What is Tempering
  • Characteristics of Property Tempered Chocolate
  • Ways to Temper
  • Tools and Utensils for Tempering Chocolate
  • INSTRUCTIONS:  Tempering Chocolate

What is Tempering

In order for chocolate to have its maximum aesthetic and utilitarian qualities, the chocolate needs to be prepared through a process called Tempering. To understand tempering, one needs to learn a bit about the chemistry of chocolate.  Tempering is the act of pre-crystallizing the cocoa butter in chocolate. The ingredients of dark chocolate are cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla.   Milk chocolate has the same ingredients, but with the addition of milk powder.  White chocolate is only cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder; no cocoa liquor is used.  Whether dark, milk or white chocolate, cocoa butter is the essential ingredient. When chocolate is heated, the crystals in cocoa butter break apart.  There are 6 different forms of crystals in chocolate, but it is the beta crystals that produce the desired aesthetic qualities in chocolate.  The beta crystal is also referred to as the stable crystal because its formation results in chocolate being hard, shiny, and with an even coloring.  To pre-crystallize chocolate, you melt the chocolate to break apart the cocoa butter crystals.  Then you stir and cool the chocolate so that the stable beta crystals are formed.   It is at this point that the chocolate is ready for use. 

Chocolate does not stay tempered.  As the chocolate cools, the chocolate begins to harden. This means that too many crystals have formed and the chocolate is now over-crystallized.  This harden chocolate can be reused by re-tempering it.

Tempering doesn’t impact taste.  Chocolate that is not tempered or over-crystallized will taste the same as properly tempered chocolate.  You temper chocolate to maximize the look and feel of the chocolate.

For more information: Check out Chocolate Alchemy’s article “Tempering – Deconstruction and Reconstruction & Illustrated Tempering“Another good resource is David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Tempering: How To Temper Chocolate. This piece discusses why tempering chocolate is necessary and what happens when chocolate is improperly tempered.  You will also find instructions for tempering using a double boiler.

Characteristics of Properly Tempered Chocolate

When chocolate is properly tempered in will have the following characteristics:

  • Shine – Shiny and glossy when hard
  • Even coloring – The color and shine will be evenly distributed throughout the chocolate
  • Hardness – A crisp hardness that snaps when broken
  • Shrinkage – Clean and consistent shrinkage in moulds

If the chocolate is not properly tempered, it will 1) take a long time to harden, 2) have a grayish color, and 3) stick to moulds.

Ways to Temper

There are different methods for tempering chocolate.  These methods are defined by their means for heating or cooling the chocolate.  Probably the oldest and most well known method involves heating the chocolate in a bain-marie (double-boiler).  A more modern heating method is with a microwave.  In terms of cooling, you can pour the chocolate on a cool surface, such as a granite or marble table and mix it on the table until it is cooled. Or you can cool the chocolate by adding un-melted chocolate to the warm chocolate to bring up the temperature, called seeding.

Tools and Utensils for Tempering Chocolate

You probably have all the tools and utensils you need for making chocolate already in your kitchen.

  • Microwave oven
  • Plastic mixing bowls (microwave safe)
  • Plastic spatula
  • Metal spoon
  • Cooking thermometer  (You can use a regular meat or digital thermometer.  Both will work with chocolate.)

Tempering Chocolate

Step-by-Step Instructions

At Rendez-Vous Chocolat in Brussels, Belgium, owner and chocolatier Anca Andreitu has refined using the microwave method of tempering chocolate by adding the additional step of seeding with cocoa butter at the end.  This hybrid method is a quick and efficient process that maximizes shine and even coloring and achieves perfect hardness.  It also allows for the chocolate to stay tempered a bit longer than with other methods.  Below are step-by-step instructions for this method of tempering chocolate.

Step 1 – Melting the Chocolate

The first step in tempering chocolate is to melt it.  Chocolate melts at 45 degrees Celsius.  There are two simple and safe ways you can melt chocolate in your kitchen.  The first is with a bain marie (double-boiler) and the second is with a microwave.

Bain Marie (double-boiler):  Because chocolate burns easily, one needs to keep the chocolate away from direct heat.  This is accomplished using a double-boiler rather than a saucepan.  Put the chocolate in a double boiler until it starts to melt.  Once some of the chocolate is melted, stir regularly.  As soon as most of the chocolate is melted, turn the heat off and stir.  When the chocolate is completely melted, pour the chocolate into a plastic bowl.

Microwave:  If you are going to use a microwave, put the chocolate in a plastic bowl that is no more than 2/3 full.  Heat the chocolate in short intervals until it starts to melt.  The amount of time will vary depending on how much chocolate you are using.  If you have a large bowl, start with 2 -3 minutes.  If you are using a tiny bowl, start with 1 minute.  Stir regularly from the center outwards until the chocolate is melted.

For more information: Callebaut’s Tempering with a Microwave.

How full:  Do not fill the bowl more than 2/3 full.  You will need room to mix the chocolate.  If you fill the bowl to the top, it will be hard to stir without chocolate spilling out.

Type of Bowl:  You want to use plastic and not glass because you don’t want the bowl to retain heat.

Temperature:  Because the intensity of the heat can vary from microwave to microwave, use med-high instead of high to avoid burning the chocolate. If you melt the chocolate slowly in a microwave, you can melt it at precisely the temperature that chocolate melts without getting the chocolate hotter than it needs to be.  The ability to have complete control of the temperature of the chocolate is one of the advantages of using a microwave instead of a Bain Marie (double boiler).

Step 2 – Cooling & Stirring the Chocolate

Once the chocolate is melted you begin the cooling process. For properly tempered chocolate you need the temperature of the chocolate to be within a specific temperature range. Dark, milk and white chocolate are tempered at different temperatures.  The differences in cooling temperature have to do with the amount of protein in the chocolate.  The more milk protein, the lower the temperature to melt and to cool.  Moreover, different brands of chocolate tend to require slightly different cooling temperature. Here is a chart that shows the suggested cooling temperature for two popular Belgian Chocolates: Becolade and Callebaut. Note that the recommending tempering temperatures have about a 1 degree difference.

Chocolate Tempering Temperature Chart

There are four popular ways to cool chocolate: Seeding (and seeding with just cocoa butter), using a marble table, and letting the chocolate cool on its own. 


With this method you slowly add un-melted chocolate (the same kind of chocolate that you melted) to the already melted chocolate.  You do this until the desired temperature is reached.  You start off adding handfuls of chocolate.  At first the added chocolate will melt very rapidly.  As the chocolate begins to cool, the added chocolate will take longer to melt and require more stirring.  Stirring is very important in the tempering process.  When the added chocolate no longer melts, then you are close to the desired temperature. 
This un-melted chocolate you are adding is already tempered.  By adding tempered chocolate (un-melted chocolate) to melted chocolate you accomplish two essential steps in tempering: 1) the chocolate is cooled down because the un-melted chocolate is at room temperature and 2) the tempered chocolate begins the chain reaction necessary to form the proper beta crystals.

For more information: Callebaut’s Tempering with Callets (also called seeding) .

Tempering with Cocoa Butter

Somewhat similar to seeing is tempering by adding cocoa butter or Mycroyo (a powdered from of cocoa butter produced by Barry Callebaut).  With this method you melt the chocolate and then let it cool to about 35° C for dark chocolate or 29° C for milk or white chocolate.  When the chocolate is cool, add 1 % cocoa butter or Mycroyo (this works out to be 10 gram per 1 kilo).  Stir until completely dissolved. Continue cooling the chocolate to the proper temperature.

For more information: Callebaut’s Tempering with Mycroyo (Callebaut’s powdered cocoa butter) .

Marble Table

Another way to cool the chocolate is to pour 2/3 of the chocolate on a cool table, such as granite or marble, and mix the chocolate on the table until it is at the desired temperature.  This mixing is important in forming the beta crystals.  Once the chocolate is cool, you put the chocolate back in the bowl with the remaining chocolate and mix the chocolates together.  This results in all the chocolate being properly tempered.

For more information: Callebaut’s Tempering on a Cold (marble) Work Surface

Cooling Naturally

You can also just let the bowl of chocolate cool on its own.  This can take up to 30 minutes or longer.  You need to stir the chocolate throughout the cooling process.

Measuring the Temperature
To measure the temperature, you use a meat thermometer rather than a candy thermometer because a candy thermometer is for very high temperatures and a meat thermometer is for lower temperatures.   With chocolate you try not to get it hotter than 45 degrees.

The Effect of Ambient Room Temperature on Tempering Process
Chocolate is highly sensitive to ambient room temperature.  If you are working in a cool room the chocolate will cool more quickly than in a warm room. When working with chocolate, you always have to factor in the ambient room temperature and humidity.

Importance of Stirring
The right temperature on a thermometer does not insure that the chocolate is properly tempered.  The chocolate also needs to be stirred. In fact, chocolate masters do not rely on a thermometer. They know when it is properly tempered by the look and feel of the chocolate when they are stirring it. One technique used by chocolate masters to test the temperature of chocolate is to put a dab under their bottom lip.  Since chocolate melts at body temperature, if it feels hot, the chocolate is too hot.  If it feels just right, then the chocolate is at the right temperature.

The difference between chocolate chips (heat stable chocolate) and the chocolate used for making chocolates:  There is a difference between the chocolate you use to make chocolate chip cookies and the chocolate used to make chocolate candy (or bon bons, as they are called in Belgium).  Chocolate chips are heat stable chocolate so that they will not lose their shape and melt while baking.  To make chocolate heat stable, less cocoa butter is added.  The chocolate used to make candy (bon bons), on the other hand, has more cocoa butter so that it will melt into a liquid form at 45° celcius.


Step 3 – Testing if Properly Tempered

You can test to make sure your chocolate is properly tempered and ready to use by dipping a spoon into the chocolate and then letting the spoon sit for 3-5 minutes.  If the chocolate is properly tempered, the chocolate on the spoon will turn hard and glossy.  If the chocolate is not tempered, the chocolate will still be liquid and/or will have a marble-like color indicating the fat and cocoa are still separated.

When the chocolate starts to get Thick (Over-crystallization)
When the chocolate cools too much, it will become thick.  This means that the chocolate has started to over-crystallize.  To get it back to a nice liquid form, you just need to re-temper. 


  1. When chocolate is properly tempered, it will harden within 3-5 minutes. However if you are working with molds, I would allow the chocolate to set for at least 15 minutes.

  2. What are the times that milk and white chocolate harden at?

  3. Robbin,
    This is a great article. The photos really help explain the process. Makes me want to eat some chocolate. Thanks so much for sharing all this information with us.

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